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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Six Writing Tips from JRR Tolkien

   
Author Topic: Six Writing Tips from JRR Tolkien
History
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http://www.bluezoowriters.com/2012/12/08/six-writing-tips-from-j-r-r-tolkien/

Nice little article. Flies in the face of much I've read on modern writing and publishing (including here on Hatrack on subjects like getting published and revising).

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Grumpy old guy
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Interesting, thanks for posting.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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Remember Tolkien was an *amateur* novelist. He had a prestigious day job, and he wrote simply to please himself, not to secure a career as a writer of fiction.

The reason Tolkien's way is so contrarian is that most of the publishing advice out there for authors is about how to establish a successful writing career. This obviously includes *some* artistic advice, but it is necessarily highly *conservative* artistic advice. It does not advise you to offend peoples' sensibilities (unless you're peddling smut where that's the selling point), and boy, does LotR stick in a lot of literary craws. It does not advise you to write a story that doesn't fit into any familiar marketing categories, and LotR *created* fantasy as a major publishing genre. It *does* advise you to write short pieces of about 80-90k words that will be cheap for bookstores to stock and, well, you get the picture.

And lets be honest; LotR for all its greatness is a greatly flawed book as well. It is doubtful that in these unsettled times for the industry that anyone would publish such a peculiar and risky manuscript.

I won't be unfair and say that the career advice out there inevitably leads to mediocrity; obviously mediocrity we've always had with us, and greatness has never left the literary stage. For that matter, I don't think a writer has to be great to justify his work. But I do think being a great writer and being a published one are subtly different goals, in that one does not guarantee the other.

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redux
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quote:
It is doubtful that in these unsettled times for the industry that anyone would publish such a peculiar and risky manuscript.
Fifty Shades of Grey got published -- an erotica Twilight fan-fiction. Or am I wrong it classify it as a peculiar and risky manuscript and I don't know the publishing world at all? [Smile]
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MattLeo
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Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published and after it was a viral hit was picked up by Knopf. In other words the conventional publisher only picked it up after it was a sure thing.
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extrinsic
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Phillip Martin's advices illustrate a position on writing for success. They are advices I've heard elsewhere expressed in many forms, that I've followed for years regardless. The main point I take away from Martin's article—these are several of many valuable advices among many, many more.

History, when you mentioned "ecuastrophe" in enigmaticuser's "How long to get to know your main character(s)?" thread, I figured you'd been reading up on Tolkien's writing tips and methods. Here's a couple tertiary discourses that expand on them:

Kim Falconer's take on Tolkien's "Secondary World" "Fiction in Another World." PDF format.
http://www.falconastrology.com/pdfs/Fiction_in_Another_World.pdf

And Rico Marcel Abrahamsen's take on Stages of Imagination, "Exploring Theme and Vision in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth."
http://valarguild.org/varda/Tolkien/encyc/papers/dreamlord/stages/contentsStages.htm

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Remember Tolkien was an *amateur* novelist. He had a prestigious day job, and he wrote simply to please himself, not to secure a career as a writer of fiction.

Sounds familiar. [Wink]
quote:
The reason Tolkien's way is so contrarian is that most of the publishing advice out there for authors is about how to establish a successful writing career. This obviously includes *some* artistic advice, but it is necessarily highly *conservative* artistic advice. It does not advise you to offend peoples' sensibilities (unless you're peddling smut where that's the selling point), and boy, does LotR stick in a lot of literary craws.
It did stick in many crtics' "craws", initially, and then again when his popularity was affirmed as "the most read author and poet in the twentieth century." Literary critics can be a bit rigid, even snobbish, in what they consider "great literature." They are often decades behind the masses in the recognition of what are new and momentous and lasting literary achievements. While critics assailed Tolkien for wasting his time with the LOTR when his scholarly work on Beowulf and other epic Anglo-Saxon literature was so much more appropriate and noteworthy, they missed how this same scholarship is at the foundation of what makes the LOTR great. In the last few decades, there has been a reversal among the critics and Tolkien's fantasy works are the subject of much scholarship and critical acclaim. I've many of these works in my library and am currently listening to a wonderful lecture series by Professor Michael Drout entitled The Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West: Recovering the Lost Tradition of Europe
http://www.amazon.com/The-Modern-Scholar-Recovering-Tradition/dp/B0089G9T5Y
quote:
And lets be honest; LotR for all its greatness is a greatly flawed book as well. It is doubtful that in these unsettled times for the industry that anyone would publish such a peculiar and risky manuscript.
And what a loss to the world that would have been.
This demonstrates that publishers can be blind to what the public desires to read. I submit writers are better attuned to this need because they are invariably readers ensnared by story whereas publishers are, in their focus on the business of publishing, are less so.

The author of the article acknowledges that Tolkien did not write for "markets". He wrote what he loved, for his own enjoyment and for that of his family and friends. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien Charles Williams, and others formed The Inkilngs predicated on the knowledge that no one was publishing the sorts of stories they enjoyed. Therefore they need write these stories themselves.

I submit this is what many of us do. We write what we enjoy to fill an unmet need. In my case, I write Jewish-themed fantasy stories in large part because so very few are, and I enjoy them.
I possess nearly all such literature as exists, but desire more. There is little call for such stories. "A niche market" with "too small an audience." Yet, we write what we love.

I believe you do as well. [Smile]

quote:
I won't be unfair and say that the career advice out there inevitably leads to mediocrity; obviously mediocrity we've always had with us, and greatness has never left the literary stage. For that matter, I don't think a writer has to be great to justify his work. But I do think being a great writer and being a published one are subtly different goals, in that one does not guarantee the other.
Oh, I agree.

I read too much crap that has been published--though I recognize such a judgment is often subjective. And I'm not alone. I find it interesting in looking at reviews on Amazon, that there are frequently 1 star reviews on works with many 5 stars. As the adage goes, "You cannot account for taste."

What I took most from this article is that for Tolkien, as for some of us, the writing "is the thing", not the rush to publication.

Good Shabbos!

Respectfully,
Dr.. Bob

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
He wrote what he loved, for his own enjoyment and for that of his family and friends. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien Charles Williams...

Have you read any Charles Williams, Dr. Bob? I think that his work would have particular interest to you.
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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published and after it was a viral hit was picked up by Knopf. In other words the conventional publisher only picked it up after it was a sure thing.

On a related note, it is credited with giving Random House enough profit to give all their US and Canadian employees $5,000 bonuses.

Just mentioning that because I thought it was a really classy move on Random House's part [Smile]

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Grumpy old guy
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One point on LotR: it was never intended by Tolkein to become what it did.

He was primarily interested in developing the languages of Middle Earth. The stories grew out of that background and, during the writing, Tolkein did it by 'the seat of his pants' with only a vague idea of where he was going.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Louise Glück, modern Jewish poet, explores Yiddish papa-like though secular rabbinic meditations about spiritual life. The collection Wild Iris, I think contains her strongest poetry. Exquisite.
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redux
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quote:
The author of the article acknowledges that Tolkien did not write for "markets". He wrote what he loved, for his own enjoyment and for that of his family and friends. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien Charles Williams, and others formed The Inkilngs predicated on the knowledge that no one was publishing the sorts of stories they enjoyed. Therefore they need write these stories themselves.

I submit this is what many of us do. We write what we enjoy to fill an unmet need. In my case, I write Jewish-themed fantasy stories in large part because so very few are, and I enjoy them.
I possess nearly all such literature as exists, but desire more. There is little call for such stories. "A niche market" with "too small an audience." Yet, we write what we love.

I think this is something always worth remembering - to write what we love and to write because we love to.
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History
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by History:
He wrote what he loved, for his own enjoyment and for that of his family and friends. C.S. Lewis, Tolkien Charles Williams...

Have you read any Charles Williams, Dr. Bob? I think that his work would have particular interest to you.
I possess his works but have, as yet, only read his first novel War in Heaven.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
I possess his works but have, as yet, only read his first novel War in Heaven.

Well, you're lucky; I've only been able to find *Many Dimensions*, but I think that might be up your alley because it seems to me to have a certain Kabbalistic vibe. It's about an antiquarian who goes to Baghdad and obtains the mysterious "Stone of Suleiman". The stone allows its bearer to overcome the limitations of space and time, but it also has another property: any possessor of the stone can create a perfect duplicate of it that has all the powers of the original stone.

This sounds like an awkward setup with an overpowered MacGuffin, but this power of replication turns out to be frustrating limitation for the people who are trying to make money off of something that is infinitely replicatable. I guess that could be taken as a metaphor for intellectual property, but if that was the intent the story is well ahead of its time. The satirist in me was tickled with the idea of people possessing such a wonderful thing being worried about money at all.

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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Have you read any Charles Williams, Dr. Bob?
Butting in, but...I tried a couple from the school library when I was a teenager, when his name came up in writeups on Tolkien, but I couldn't get it. But I'm more mature now (some), and it's on my list of things I should sample again sometime...
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